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Drinking Syrup

March 28, 2011

Be forewarned, today is going to be a bit of a stretch as I try to tie together all kinds of unconnected ideas into one coherent post.

Don’t forget, it is less than a week away from the eighth annual Jewish Food Festival at Temple Gates of Heaven in Schenectady. I’m tempted to describe it as “death in the afternoon,” since the adult admission price of $15 entitles you to four hours of all you can eat blintzes, brisket, chopped liver, challah with butter, rugelach and other healthy treats.

But I’m really most excited about the egg creams made with Fox’s U-Bet. For years I’ve called it “The chocolate syrup of my people.”

Maybe it has to do with the season, because syrup has been on my mind a lot. Just yesterday morning I wrote about Rhode Island’s famous coffee syrups. Then later in the day I met up with Albany Jane, Albany Kid and Capitol to Capital for my first-ever visit to a maple syrup sugar shack.

It was awesome.

I suspect that those lovely ladies will be writing up their own tales of the day, and I hate to be redundant. But there were a few things I learned that I thought you might find interesting. Frankly, those of you who grew up in the northeast may know all of this stuff, having been schlepped to sugar shacks every spring since you were knee high.

1)    Maple syrup is a springtime food

Seriously, what gives? The sap starts flowing when it’s freezing at night and warmer in the day. I suppose that could be the end of winter. But it’s spring now and the sap is running. Okay, I get that.

But when I think maple I think of fall. I think about winter squash and root vegetable glazes. I think about steaming bowls of hot oatmeal. I think about drizzling it on the first pristine snows of winter. And now you are telling me that maple syrup comes in the spring? I’m so confused.

I can’t imagine pairing maple with the fiddleheads, scapes, radishes, asparagus and other produce that arrive in the spring. Although new parsnips are also available as early as April, which seem like a more natural fit. And the last of the local storage carrots could also benefit from a shot of maple syrup. But still, I’m having a hard time seeing this as a springtime food.

2)    Maple sap is the next big thing

Hear me now and believe me later. I don’t know how to package it or how it needs to be processed, but I do know how to market it. One of the greatest things about our tour at Kent’s Sugar House was getting to try a cup of free-run sap from a bucket. It was totally refreshing, just a little bit sweet, and lightly yet pleasantly earthy.

This is a soft drink. This is the next coconut water. There have to be additional uses for this delicious stuff besides boiling down forty gallons of it to get just one gallon of syrup.

Chefs need to get their hands on this stuff: it’s a palate cleanser, it’s a poaching liquid.
Bartenders need some of it too: it’s an ice cube to go in a unique old-fashioned.
Healthful eaters need to drink it: surely it’s full of flavonoids, antioxidants or something.

3)    New York needs to get with the program

I’ve written before about the supremacy of Grade B syrup over Grade A. Well, apparently there are different labeling conventions and gradings of syrup among the states. I was assured yesterday that New York’s Grade A Dark Amber was identical to Vermont’s Grade B.

That said, I also tried New York’s Grade B, which is considered a commercial grade that most retailers won’t put on their shelves, and it was incredible. I pleaded with the Kent’s people to put some of that dark and brambly fully-mapled goodness into a reasonable size container. But all they were selling was half-gallons.

So I left with a small bit of their Grade A Dark Amber, which now I need to put to the test and see how it stacks up to my beloved Grade B. That’s just one more thing for my to-do list.

4)    Drinking warm just-made maple syrup makes me giddy

Seriously, you should follow Albany Jane’s example and drag some friends out into the woods for shots of syrup. They will thank you for it. And don’t forget to stock up on it while you are there because Passover is around the corner.

You do know what the only good thing about Passover is, right?
Matzoh brie with plenty of good maple syrup.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Katerbirch permalink
    March 28, 2011 2:15 pm

    My uncle used to make syrup in the spring. Those are some of my my fond memories from my childhood (aside from slugging through the snow carrying sap). I’m a hardcore maple fanatic, though I suppose I come by it naturally. My late grandfather made whiskey sours with maple syrup, while it sounds bizarre, it’s oh so tasty. Oh, and eggs boiled in sap, make for a delicious snack, as do hot dogs boiled in sap…. Oh to be a kid again….

  2. Ellen Whitby permalink
    March 29, 2011 10:24 pm

    Fox’s U-Bet syrup was a staple of our passover kitchen when I was little. At some point, we came across an article about quality of syrups and it talked about the amount of foreign material found in different products. Fox’s U-bet was the number one syrup containing hairs, particles and all kinds of gross stuff that doesn’t belong in chocolate milk. Or in most foods, come to think of it. Now I look forward to getting Nestle’s Quik on passover because the only things in there are….ta-da….cocoa and sugar.

    Now there’s a novel idea!

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